Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Before You Sign

Publishing is a small and confusing world and because of that there’s no doubt that I frequently get questions from friends, family, friends of family, family of friends or anyone else even remotely related or not related, but with an interest in learning more about publishing. Often I can direct them in much the same way I direct all of you to websites or other sources (this blog) that might help them make the right decisions.

Well, recently I had an experience that really made me wonder if all of this is really making any difference. Never fear, I’m not that discouraged, it was more of a bang my head against the wall moment. I’m reminded daily by the community here on the BookEnds blog how much you all are learning and have learned from this blog and other agent blogs and how open you are to learning more. However, I’m also reminded that there’s just as many people who need to be taught and re-taught and might just not want to learn.

This instance though. Uff, I really wanted to scream. I was emailed a question from someone I once worked with, someone I once presumably trained, about a contract she had received from a perspective publisher. This is someone who has been encouraged to read my blog daily and, from working inside the publishing industry, should know enough to at least read such websites as Preditors & Editors and Absolute Write, my two personal go-to sites. “Jane” admitted she didn’t have a great deal of knowledge about publishing contracts and wanted some input. The contract was with a smaller publisher and one I had never heard of. While I don’t claim to have complete information on all publishers, I tend to have some name recognition when it comes to both small presses and epublishers. This one didn’t ring a bell. So before wasting my time and even opening the contract I did a quick click over to both my favorite sites and in the speed of the Internet (yes, less than a couple of minutes) I learned that this house was not only a fee-charging vanity press, but not recommended by Preditors & Editors.

I’m rubbing my head just thinking about this because here’s the deal: if someone doesn’t want to make the effort to really learn about this business and understand that you don’t pay publishers, they pay you, someone will not learn. Frankly, I don’t get how someone who has enough interest in publishing to work for a short time in the business wouldn’t know this one simple thing.

So here’s the deal. For those of you who do want to learn and are listening, please, please do not sign anything with either an agent or a publisher without double-checking both Preditors & Editors and Absolute Write.

I know this business can seem complicated and certainly there’s a learning curve, but let’s face it, for those of you who want to learn and are making an effort to do so, it just isn’t that hard.



Linda Banche said...

There's a third category in addition to those who don't know better and those who do know better. There are those who know better but who try to get others to do their work for them. These people exist all over, not just in publishing. I hope the next time "Jane" sends you an email, you ignore her.

csmith said...

Brilliant post - just wanted to point out that you've got "a perspective publisher" - I presume you meant prospective?

And you're more patient than I'd be.

Rick Daley said...

Thanks for your help in enabling me to count myself among the informed. Great post and all-around great blog!

Terri said...

Good Morning and thank you for the wonderful post. I am one of the rabid faithful on AW who keep track of the most notorious vanity press of them all! I was almost taken in, but the sensible voice in my head told me to do my research and I said "no #$%^ing way." AW is also what led me to all of the wonderful agent blogs and now I count myself as well on my way to becoming educated about the process. Thank you for this blog!

word verify 'presseco' sounds like a good name for a vanity press

Kate Douglas said...

You will always find people who want the easy way out. A friend called me the other day for my "expert advice" regarding a publishing house her husband was looking at for his suspense novel that he's been unable to find representation for. I told her the one she asked about was a vanity press and that if he self-published, it wasn't the same as going with a regular publisher. She went on to argue with me about the merits of this particular house and I finally asked her, if they were so set on doing this, why she had called. It appears she merely wanted me to validate their decision to self-publish rather than his improving the story to the point where it might find a royalty paying publisher. Obviously I wasn't willing to do this and she hung up angry after approaching me in the first place.

This is not an easy business to succeed in, but the rewards, if you stick with it, improve your craft and refuse to give up, are well worth it.

Anna Claire said...

You're right. I can't imagine what trying to get an agent or publisher was like before the Internet. We've all got so many resources now! Thanks for being one of the best ones :)

DebraLSchubert said...

To address what Anna Claire said about what trying to get an agent or publisher was like before the Internet, I can tell you. There were very thick books you had to read through to glean info we get in seconds nowadays. It was not pretty, not pretty at all.

As far as your friend is concerned, Jessica, I'm truly amazed. There is so much great information at our fingertips these days, it's a wonder questions like this still arise - especially from someone who has experience in the publishing world. Hope your head is no longer hurting!

WitLiz Today said...

Here's what I don't get, as appreciative as I am for all the wonderful agent/editor blogs out there.

Agents publicly calling out writer's, authors or other agent's for questionable behavior.

Editors calling out other agents, or writer's for same. Writers calling other writers idiots at the first opportunity.

To my mind, publishing is a business where patience, understanding and compassion for the quirky (or in many cases the mentally and physically challenged) side of humanity should be like wearing second skin. (And btw, I would include all writer's underneath that umbrella of understanding or I find it hard to believe you'll be a successful writer for long, if at all).

But agents and editors see first hand all the myriad assortment of personalities come through the transit. They are the first to be on the wrong end of someone's bad day, and the first to confront the challenges a difficult personality presents.

Instead of publicly wringing your hands into Gordian knots about it, however, I would suggest dealing with it in a more humane way, like, finding out why Jane had a brain cramp after all the knowledge she's acquired. If that's not possible for one reason or another, then try a little bit of kindness by forgiving her and let it go!

If you want to use the incident to educate, fine, but get Jane's permission first. You have no idea if she's reading your blog, Ms Faust, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Unless you are right there in the room with her, leave room for doubt in your assumptions. The other problem with outing someone even with their permission, is that you tap into commenters who are quick to judge and the word 'idiot' is the main staple of their comment. That has to stop.

Furthermore, should you find out that Jane is indeed trying to get you to do the work for her, don't ignore her, but use that opportunity to teach her some boundaries, like, "Jane, what the hell's wrong with you? Look it up yourself." (But in a much nicer way).

Believe it or not, there are a huge amount of people, writers, agents and editors included, who suffer from chronic short-term memory loss. And some from long-term memory loss.

And it's a red flag if someone you personally know,(or don't know) does something so outrageous or out of character, that you're questioning their behavior.

That's where patience, kindness and compassion should kick in and we should assume the best case scenario before assuming the worst.

And deal with it more humanely. The upside to that is, Ms Faust, you won't beat your head against the desk damaging your cerebral cortex.

And you'll continue to write wonderful, inspiring blog posts.

Anonymous said...

I recently consulted Preditors & Editors about two publishing cos I know exist and neither was listed. I am guessing I was searching for imprints, not the actual co, but we don't always know the name of the larger company.
What to do in such a case?

Alannah Lynne said...

I've been a lurker for quite some time and decided today was a good day to break my silence.

I am so grateful to you and this blog for the great information I've learned.

Like others said, I can't imagine trying to learn this business without the help of the internet. But on the flip side of that coin, I sometimes get bogged down with blog hopping and internet research.

In an effort to reduce the amount of time I spend "learning" and increase the amount of time I actually spend writing, I've reduced the number of blogs I read drastically.

Your's however, remains at the top of my stop list every day. Thank you!!

Kimber An said...

I'm often discouraged by the same thing but from the other side of the desk. What I mean is I'm discouraged while working hard to learn all I can to be (almost) constantly met with the assumption that ALL aspiring authors are knuckleheads who don't want to learn a darn thing.

Suzan Harden said...

Take a deep breath, Jessica, get up from your desk and go ask Jacky if she has some chamomile or rosehip tea.

Unfortunately, Kate's right. This kind of thing happens in every other profession, and some personal relationships too. Like my friend twenty-some years ago who got upset with me because I wouldn't validate her affair.

Instead, focus on all of us wannabes you've helped.

Dara said...

Those two sites are amazing! I'm on Absolute Write nearly every day and go to Preditors and Editors every so often.

I also don't understand how people just refuse to learn. A bit of laziness I suspect.

Josh said...

I've been lurking for a couple of weeks now and love this blog. I currently have a partial with Jessica (and a few others).

I'm fairly new to the whole game, but already have suggestions that might improve the whole literary agent process.

Thought you all might be interested:
The Problem with Literary Agents

Teresa said...

Another great blog for keeping tabs on editors and agents who prey on naive writers is Writer Beware Blogs (

I frequently check in, because Victoria Strauss and company will sometimes discuss contests that may or may not be on the up and up.

Nowadays, you can Google anything, but not everyone does.

Thanks, Jessica.

MeganRebekah said...

I haven't made too many ventures over to Preditors and Editors because I'm not ready to query yet (See I learned from your site -- don't query until you're absolutely ready), but I love AbsoluteWrite. That forum has amazing people and support.

I learned as a teacher that sometimes you just can't get thru to people. I could write the assignment on the board, pass it out on a piece of paper AND discuss it and explain it to the class. Five minutes later, at least two kids would come up and ask what they were supposed to do.

I realized that if I expected those questions I wasn't frustrated with them.

Sheila Deeth said...

Thanks. Very valuable information, and good reminder. After enough rejections it becomes easy just to skip the important step in hopes of achieving the more important goal, and skipping steps doesn't work.

Haste yee back ;-) said...

Keep in mind that there are such agencies as "Layers for the Arts." These folks will, for a small fee, help you with Pub contracts and other legal entanglements.

Also see NOLO PRESS, Berkeley CA.

Haste yee back ;-)

Diana said...

I consider myself a newbie because I have not yet published a book. However, every time I run into someone who has decided to write a book or is attending his or her first writing conference and begins telling me about the really great vanity press they've heard about, I realize how much ahead of the curve I am.

I really appreciate the effort you and other agents and editors put in to making good information available to us writers.

Haste yee back ;-) said...

LOL... that should be "Lawyers for the Arts."

Haste yee back ;-)

Juliana Stone said...

I think the dude who emailed you is just plain lazy and didn't want to do the leg work herself. not a great trait to have in this business....

Kim said...

As someone new to everything in the world of writing except...well...the writing part, this blog is invaluable. I now have a list of websites that I browse frequently, blogs that I read, and references to which I can turn when I need help (and oh, do I need help sometimes ;)

I'm lucky in that a dear friend of mine from college is an attorney in the entertainment business and I can rely on her as a resource in terms of all things contract, but I know (now!) to check these sources FIRST before I even query.

Thanks again for sharing your wisdom, Jessica. Can your next post be on how to get three kids up, fed, groomed and out the door in a (basically) timely fashion in the morning? I might need more assistance with that than my query letter, and that is truly saying something ;)

Pen said...

Just wondered, are these sites watching publishers/agents internationally or just in the US?

Ryan said...

I saw that somebody added a third category, and I'd like to add a fourth. There are also those who pretend they want to learn, but seem to not have the capacity to. Sometimes the allure of getting published is so strong you don't care what you have to do to get it done. This almost happened to me when I found PublishAmerica, thankfully I checked preditors and editors before following through.

glovin said...

Thanks. Very valuable information, and good reminder. After enough rejections it becomes easy just to skip the important step in hopes of achieving the more important goal.........

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